Miss Sarasi Jayaratne a teenage student from the United States of America volunteered at Horizon Lanka, Mahawilachchiya in August (sic) 2007.
Sarasi Jayaratne’s Report
During our hour-long car ride from the bustling city of Anuradhapura to the serene village of Mahawilachchiya, my nerves were nothing but calm. All the “what if” questions kept on popping up in my head, but after passing through the most beautiful scenery of rice and corn fields and vegetable farms, my mind started to calm down. After a few right and left turns, I arrived at Horizon Lanka. I looked up and there were some kids from afar in yellow T-shirts under a big tree talking amongst them. They were the students of Horizon Lanka with whom I would spend my next few days.
Two girls, who I thought were teachers, walked in my direction and kindly greeted me. They were another volunteer, Nalika, also from the USA and a senior student. Mr. Ananda and Asha warmly welcomed me to Horizon Lanka with great happiness and gave me a brief tour of the academy. I have to say, the school was amazing. They had most of the facilities already in the academy such as computers, projectors, books and gym equipment, mostly in air-conditioned buildings. I was utterly stupefied by all the great things that this school had in such a remote location. Quietly working, kids of all ages were typing busily and clicking the mouse away in the computer rooms.
Mr. Ananda introduced us to our host family, the Jayaratnes, who lived very close to the academy. The family was so happy and welcomed us to their cozy home. Their warm welcome made me very comfortable to stay in Mahawilachchiya. At that time, we had a feast of the best Sri Lankan cuisine with them. We will never forget little Ranuka’s effort to fix my Mom’s broken mini fan that she carried with her.
As the founder of Keep Reading Foundation, my main goal of visiting Sri Lanka was to promote and support English reading habits of children in rural Sri Lanka. With that in my mind, I went back to the academy after the lunch. My daily schedule included helping kids to improve their English knowledge and having fun with them at free time. I was proud to see how much effort they took to ride bikes from their house to the school and carry the mini backpacks with them. The students were that eager to come to Horizon Lanka and learn more than others could at their age. Teaching the kids was absolutely fun, because we played games outside and laughed loudly during free time between the classes.
The “English Camp” where most of the children learned how to read, write, and speak in English was the most interesting one. We started the day with a small game that I planned for them. First, everyone was in a large circle and I was in the center with the ball. Blindly, I would spin with my eyes closed and then I would throw the ball to a random student. The student with the ball would have to say their name, age, grade, where they live, and what they wanted to be in English when they grow up. Surprisingly half of the students wanted to be teachers, while others wanted to be doctors, computer engineers, and lawyers. It was so remarkable to see how high their goals in life were. Later, we made up wacky stories of a dog, a cat, and a tiger that were in the jungle and visited Horizon Lanka to learn about computers. It was so fun and the kids were also enjoying that they utilized English in such a fun way. Later, we went into an outside classroom and read an assorted number of books and translated the English back to Sinhalese. After a hearty lunch of rice and curry outside on a rather windy day, everyone headed upstairs to the computer lab to learn, yet again, more English. Using a computer game that taught greetings, food, exercise, places, etc. the children were enticed and quietly clicked their mouse away till the day ended.
At my host family’s house, for the first time in my life, I got the opportunity to have a “well bath” which I had never before. I really enjoyed it, even though they had fully equipped attached bathrooms at their house. I have to admit, that the well bath was so refreshing and cool. And besides, it was very different from the conventional shower. It was more thrilling to throw the bucket into the well, pull the rope to fetch the full bucket of water and pour on my head. That is a bath I will never forget. The relaxing hours after the bath and dinner, sitting on the wicker chairs as the sun settled slowly behind the coconut trees, are still fresh in my mind. Mrs. Padama Jayaratne (Mom from my host family) took us to their back yard and showed us their garden full of various kinds of trees, teak, coconut, mango, pineapple, avocado and breadfruit. She explained that their village is bordered with Wilpattu wildlife sanctuary.
My short time at Horizon Lanka was the most enriching experience that I have ever had in my life. I got to teach English to a wide range of children and also made new friends. It was a very different relaxing environment filled with friendly people. I will definitely stay longer in Mahawilachchiya, because I know that I can help the future of not only the kids, but also the village itself. Also, I will continue to support the children in Horizon Lanka through Keep Reading Foundation, USA.
Even though I did not meet Mr. Wanninayaka at Mahawilachchiya, we arranged a meeting with him in Colombo two days before our departure from Sri Lanka. It was a pleasure to meet the very charming founder of Horizon Lanka, the brain behind all that wonderful work going on at Mahawilachchiya. I promised him that I will keep working to help children through Keep Reading Foundation and he offered his fullest support. I appreciate his advice and encouragement to reach my goals of Keep Reading Foundation and I will do my best to keep my promise.